A new year brings new opportunities, and that’s certainly true for the utility construction market. As underground infrastructure becomes less “out of sight, out of mind” for decision makers, the funds needed to fix these vital resources are gradually becoming available — meaning more work for contractors.
“Our nation’s aging utility infrastructure is top of mind for municipalities all over the country,” says Chip Young, Director of Commercial Analysis for Volvo Construction Equipment. “While new alternative fuels and means of conveyance are continually being developed, there is no alternative to clean water. These water pipelines are nearing — or have gone well beyond — the end of their useful life. We’ve entered an era of infrastructure replacement, which will continue well beyond 2016.”
According to all three manufacturers surveyed for this article — Case, John Deere and Volvo — the utility construction market is expected to remain steady in 2016. This is due to increased funding and an uptick in residential development. More work means good things for contractors and machine makers.
“With the new highway bill, we do expect to see an influx in road and bridge work over the next few years,” explains John Bauer, Brand Marketing Manager for Case Construction Equipment. “According to AED, that is expected to stimulate more than $13 billion in investments in construction equipment — so that is another positive indicator for future excavator sales. We do see continued softening of the oil and gas and agricultural markets, so equipment demand from those sectors is not likely to grow in 2016.”
What’s Ahead for Machines?
So, what can we expect to see from excavator manufacturers this year? Two buzz words come to mind: productivity and efficiency. “Productivity and efficiency remain primary goals,” says Bauer. “It’s productivity that helps you earn more work, and it’s efficiency that helps lower your total cost of ownership.”
With those two words at the front of manufacturers’ minds, today’s excavators are being loaded with technologies that help contractors focus on projects and their bottom lines — all while conforming to Tier 4 Final emissions regulations. While designing engines to meet regulations may up the cost of the machine, manufacturers have taken the opportunity to add other features to improve fuel efficiency.
“Case achieves significant gains in speed and power through larger control valves, enhanced electronics and the Case Intelligent Hydraulic System (CIHS),” says Bauer. “The goal with the CIHS is to make the best use of the machine’s hydraulic power and momentum to limit wasted movement and effort — which all increases speed while reducing fuel consumption.”
Young adds, “Volvo’s entire line of excavators now comes equipped with a proprietary ECO mode. Part of the solution involved upgrades to the hydraulic system components, minimizing backpressure throughout the system to save energy, while also adding hydraulic regeneration and conflux circuits to more effectively deliver power and improve cycle times. The proprietary half of the upgrade is in the software, which optimizes the available engine and hydraulic power to the work being done. This delivered significant fuel savings across Volvo’s entire excavator line.”
John Deere points out that its excavator lineup has various fuel-saving features, such as auto idle, auto shutdown and hydraulic reversing fans. The company even launched its WorkSight technology suite, which offers features such as remote diagnostics, machine prognostics, locations, etc.
Technologies such as telematics and grade control are becoming more and more popular. These allow contractors to keep a close eye on their machines so they can work as efficiently as possible.
“Telematics continues to evolve and provides equipment owners with real actionable data that helps them improve everything from productivity to maintenance and overall machine health,” says Bauer. “And, best of all, many manufacturers are now offering telematics subscriptions as part of the initial purchase or lease of an excavator, making it easy to get started.”
Dustin Freeman, Tactical Marketing Manager for John Deere Construction & Forestry, says that applying grade reference technology to excavators is just beginning to gain interest. “For excavators, like other John Deere products, we firmly believe that this type of technology will continue to show adoption from contractors in the future as a means to improve machine efficiencies,” he says. “‘Open architecture’ within various John Deere grade reference technologies offers flexibility to our customers. This feature allows a customer to fit his preferred brand of grade technology to his excavator. We provide an option on 210G LC up to 350G LC excavators that simplifies and reduces installation time by 50 percent. Customers can leverage their current grade technology brand and improve the efficiency of the excavator.”
What about Wheels?
John Deere and Volvo are just two manufacturers who have released wheeled excavators to the North American market in recent years. Thanks to the machine’s ability to dig productively and travel quickly and easily, both companies see the potential for growth for this type of excavator.
“These machines are the perfect Swiss Army knife for a variety of work, whether it’s clearing ditches, repairing sewers or potholes, loading trucks or moving Jersey barriers,” says Freeman. “Contractors find these excavators useful because they can dig like a tracked excavator and get from point A to point B without having to invest in a truck or trailer. A top speed of 21 mph and advanced rubber tires that are much friendlier to paved surfaces will get them to where they need to go. With the recent approval of the highway bill, there may be additional opportunities for wheeled excavators in 2016.”